Congratulations are in order for Ted Cruz, whose unrequited crush on pop culture has officially reached a fever pitch. On Thursday, the onetime presidential hopeful dropped the following Simpsons reference at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC): “I think the Democrats are the party of Lisa Simpson, and Republicans are happily the party of Homer and Bart and Maggie and Marge.”
This questionably accurate assessment is far from the first time Cruz has attempted to strike a chord with the people by referencing the beloved Fox comedy. Already, it has drawn scorn and derision from the people who actually make The Simpsons; show-runner Al Jean quickly shot back on Twitter, writing, “Ted Cruz says Maggie Simpson would vote for him. I think Ted’s the one who could use a pacifier in his mouth.”
Cruz has to be used to this by now. He’s been an emphatically on-the-record Simpsons fan for years, even as the show itself has not returned his ardor; in fact, one could argue that Cruz’s fervor for The Simpsons was an integral part of his brand as a presidential candidate. In the spring of 2015, Cruz discussed some of his favorite episodes with Federalist publisher Ben Domenech during a radio program, just days after doing some Simpsons impressions for Good Morning America.
In a moment that was too perfect to make up, Cruz misquoted his supposed second-favorite episode, 1996’s “Treehouse of Horror VII,” during the radio interview. The episode follows aliens Kang and Kodos, who abduct Bill Clinton and Bob Dole; Cruz botched a very famous line, uttered by the aliens’ fake Clinton, about “twirling, twirling, twirling towards freedom.” Jean shot back at Cruz then, too, saying, “To paraphrase Kang, ‘Ted Cruz?’ Go ahead, throw your vote away.”
Months later, in the summer of 2015, Cruz put his love for the show out there again—this time by faux-auditioning for a role via BuzzFeed video, as news continued to develop about Harry Shearer’s potential departure from the series. Just like the first time Cruz tried to capitalize on his love for the series, Jean shot the senator down: “He didn't ask permission, we don't endorse a specific candidate, and probably most disappointing for him he's not getting the part,” Jean said at the time. To add insult to injury, Shearer himself mocked the “audition” a year later.
Perhaps Cruz really does love the show, and sees his affection for it as a way to connect with Americans who might not share his political views. But during the campaign, some guessed that his constant references might be something a bit more tactical—a cynical attempt to reach out to nativists within the nerd community. (And yes, they’re there.) Regardless, we probably shouldn’t be surprised to see the man, who once created an instantly viral moment by reading Green Eggs and Ham during a filibuster, use pop culture as a crutch.
During that same filibuster, Cruz did a Darth Vader impression, and also quotedDuck Dynasty and Joseph Heller. But none of these pop culture infatuations compares to what appears to be Cruz’s second great love, behind The Simpsons: The Princess Bride, another classic property that wants nothing to do with Ted Cruz.
In the fall of 2015, following his Simpsons gag, Cruz focused his attention on the 1987 children’s film, acting out the scene in which Billy Crystal’s character helps save the life of a dying Westley. Crystal didn’t love that, tellingJames Corden that he found the impression “endearing,” but also “just a little creepy.” And Mandy Patinkin, who plays Inigo Montoya in the film, took things a step further: His first thought, he said, was “How can I stop this?” Beyond that, Patinkin also accused Cruz of missing the point of the film.
“I would like to be with Senator Cruz for a moment and I would like to respectfully ask him, since he quotes all the lines from The Princess Bride and certainly all of my character, Inigo Montoya’s lines, I would like to know why he doesn’t quote my favorite line?” Patinkin said. The line: “I have been in the revenge business so long, now that it’s over, I don’t know what to do with the rest of my life.” At the time, in Patinkin’s view, Cruz was exploiting fear of the Islamic State to promote an anti-Muslim agenda. “This man is not putting forth ideas that are at the heart of what that movie is all about,” Patinkin continued. “I would love for Senator Cruz, and everyone creating fear-mongering and hatred, to consider creating hope, optimism, and love. Open your arms to these people, these refugees trying to get into our country, and open your hearts.”
One would think all the rebukes from creators whose work Cruz admires might have gotten through to him—but given his comments Thursday, it would seem this is not the case. Then again, this also clearly isn’t just a Cruz problem. On Thursday, the National Rifle Association also received some hostile feedback from Parks and Recreation cast members and creator Mike Schur after it used a GIF of Leslie Knope in a tweet of gratitude to Dana Loesch, who appeared at a CNN town hall Wednesday night to speak with Parkland student activists in the wake of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. And there’s also Chris Christie, who will never stop lovingBruce Springsteen, despite the latter’s obvious and repeatedly expressed distaste for the former governor of New Jersey. As long as pop culture remains a pervasive and effective reference base for politicians to draw on, it’s unlikely they’ll stop dropping references—even when the work they’re invoking stands in complete opposition to their platforms.
Still, perhaps it’s worth one last appeal to Cruz and his fellow conservatives. In the words of someone Cruz in particular seems to really admire: “Kids, you tried your best, and you failed miserably. The lesson is, never try.”
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